Indian boys claim tourney title
By KLINT SPILLER
The Hays High School boys' basketball team made a statement Saturday at the Hays City Shoot-Out.
They aren't last season's six-win team. They are champions ... well, at least of their season-opening tournament.
Hays High crushed Kearney, Neb., in the tournament final 59-42, never trailing after the first quarter at the HHS gym.
The Indians' 3-0 start is their best since 2009-10, when they last won the tournament.
"I think they know. They know," said senior point guard Jordan Windholz when asked about whether winning the tournament would make a statement to their opponents in Class 5A.
"They know we are going to be good," Windholz added. "We didn't graduate anybody, and we only added people to our team."
For Kearney (2-1), it was a fitting sendoff to reach the tournament title game. Kearney no longer will be able to compete in the Shoot-Out due to a change in Nebraska School Activities Association rules regulating scheduling with out-of-state schools and tournaments.
Kearney has competed in the tournament for more than 20 years and has been more successful than any other school on the boys' side. Kearney won seven Shoot-Out titles in the tournaments' 30 years of existence -- the most of any school on the boys' side. Hays High is second with six championships.
"The community of Hays treats us really well," said Kearney head coach Scott Steinbrook. "I joked with the athletic director that I don't think our coaching staff has paid for a meal down here for the past five years. ... We are going to miss coming down here."
Kearney ran a fast-paced offense and defense, but it didn't match up with Hays High's size and equally fast offense and defense.
The Indians dominated the rebounding battle, grabbing 41 to Kearney's 27.
"I really liked the effort, and I thought we had a lot of kids contribute tonight," said Hays High head coach Rick Keltner.
Indian 6-foot-6 sophomore center Brady Werth led the team with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting and a team-high 10 rebounds. It was a career high for the young Indian center who scored in double figures all three tournament games.
"We want to give him the ball more," Windholz said. "... We look up to him. He's a big strong guy and a solid player."
Windholz scored 10 points, all of which came in the fourth quarter to help put Kearney away.
"I just think coach wanted me to control the offense and settle it down and run it," Windholz said. "I think I did that."
Hays High shot well, making 25 of 52 from the field.
The only negative to the Indians' performance was their turnover total. They committed 20 to Kearney's 13.
Hays High built its big lead in the second quarter, making 7 of 9 shots and going on a 15-2 run to jump ahead 24-13 with 4:35 remaining in the quarter.
The Indians' defense smothered Kearney in the third quarter, containing the Bearcats to just two points -- both coming off free throws. Meanwhile, Hays High extended its lead to 41-23 by the end of the third.
Kearney had its best quarter in the fourth, scoring 19 points, but Windholz and his Indian teammates responded with 18 of their own.
"We talked about this all week that if we could win this, it would be a great accomplishment," Windholz said. "We haven't won in a lot of years."
The win was big, but it came with a sacrifice. The team's top returning scorer from last season, senior Derek Bixenman, was injured with a little more than a minute remaining in the second quarter.
Bixenman fell backward attempting to deflect the ball off a Kearney player to save a possession. He fell into a cart holding the school band's large speaker, and as the play resumed, he lay on the court writhing in pain until he was carried off.
Keltner said it was an ankle injury. Keltner said it was even more disappointing since it happened to Bixenman, a player who previously has suffered injuries that have ended sports seasons.
Keltner said he hopes to have Bixenman back soon.
"He is one of our team's main leaders without a doubt," Keltner said.
Hays High had three players make the all-tournament team: Werth, junior guard Lane Clark and senior guard Nick Petz.
Werth scored in double figures all three games, averaging 13 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
Clark scored eight points per game, but he made a clutch game-tying, buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Newton in the semifinal game to help secure Hays High's chance at the tournament title.
Clark also was named Most Inspirational Player.
"He is just such a coachable kid," Keltner said. "He is a great teammate to other guys. He cares about other people. He couldn't be a more deserving winner."
Petz might have been Hays High's biggest surprise. Petz came off the bench and delivered in bunches, scoring nine points against Colby, 13 against Newton and seven against Kearney.
"Nick Petz is a hired gun," Keltner said. "He's hit some big shots for us."
On the girls' side, Hays High landed two on the all-tourney team in Janae Gagnon and Katelyn Schumacher. TMP-Marian's Heather Ruder and Colby's Lauren Bell were also named to the team. Newton's Emily Hiebert was named to the most inspirational player.